The Alternative Grape Varieties that will re-define the Clare Valley

Whether we describe it as global warming, climate change, or just part of a long term natural cycle, the Clare Valley appears to be getting warmer, drier and the vintages earlier in recent decades. As a result viticulturalists and winemakers have been experimenting with varieties other than the five classic varieties that define Clare Valley wine. (See my article on this topic).

Most of the inspiration for this work is coming from the warmer climates of Mediterranean Europe, and much of the interpretation is being done by ladies such as Kerrie Thompson, Marnie Roberts, Stephanie O’Toole – or a new guard of young guns led by Colin McBryde, Damon and Jono Koerner.

  1. Vermentino. This amazing grape from the Ligurian coast is very versatile. Watervale grower Anthony Koerner sells fruit to Kerrie Thompson which KT makes into her ‘Bianca’, Marnie Roberts for her Matriarch and Rouge ‘Maurie’, Colin McBryde, and his sons ‘Koerner’ who call their’s ‘Rolle’ one of the variety’s many synonyms. Each of these wines are completely different expressions. At the Watervale Hotel we have remain faithful to KT’s Bianca as a wine that can delight even the most dogmatic lover of Sauvignon Blanc.
  2. Fiano. Again not widely grown in the Clare Valley, but one broadly interpreted in the region. This Italian grape originating from Campania or Sicily can be fresh light and easy drinking like the Shut the Gate, more textural like Pikes or even lightly oaked in Chardonnay style as produced by Mocundunda. We stock the Mocundunda for a local alternative for Chardonnay drinkers.
  3. Sangiovese. This red variety of Tuscany enjoys the Clare Valley climate. We have the Koerner Sangiovese on our list. It is a gorgeous mid-weight Australian interpretation of Brunello. Pikes Sangiovese has a little more weight and generosity of fruit, but perhaps not the elegance.
  4. Nero D’Avola. This variety tolerates heat and drought better than most, but retains fresh fruit even if treated badly by nature. Stephanie O’Toole’s Mount Horrock’s Nero is a beautiful drink and on our list.
  5. Montepulciano. Another late ripening variety that doesn’t mind the heat. Mr Hyde’s 2016 ‘The Full Monty’ won the Trophy for best red wine in the Clare Valley wine show. This is a serious wine from Kilikanoon’s experimental label. Marnie Roberts makes another, as does Kirrihill.
  6. Tempranillo. The primary variety of Rioja is also well suited to Clare. Reilly’s is an easy drinking style. I like the Matriarch and Rouge interpretation. Good structure through acid and tannin. 
  7. Barbera. Hill River make a light easy drinking Barbera. A lovely dry red alternative, nice chilled.
  8. Assyrtiko. Jim Barry wines have pioneered the planting of this Greek variety in Clare. It is a savoury, structured white that if grown on Santorini can have a salty finish. The local alternative goes equally well with fish.
  9. Malbec. Whilst this is a Bordeaux variety the inspiration for a Malbec revival has come as much from Argentina. There are some amazing stand alone Malbec’s from the Clare Valley – Matriach and Rouge’s is on our list. Skillogalee and Eldridge do the variety justice. Others look at the Wendoree experience and have used Malbec to give Shiraz or Cabernet a fresh juiciness.
  10. If I started my classic five with Riesling I thought it apt to finish the alternative ten with Gewurztraminer. This aromatic white from the Alsace in the hands of Skillogalee’s Dave Palmer is a dry but fruitful wine. Lychees and spice abound.

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